5 Points On The Mess New York’s Redistricting Has Made For Democrats

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 01: Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) speaks to the media as he departs a Democratic caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol on October 01, 2021 in Washington, DC. The House Democrats are struggling to ... WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 01: Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) speaks to the media as he departs a Democratic caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol on October 01, 2021 in Washington, DC. The House Democrats are struggling to reach a deal on the infrastructure bill after the vote was delayed. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images) MORE LESS

Unlike in red states, where Republicans have largely been able to gerrymander their congressional maps with impunity, New York Democrats were stopped by the highest court in the state. The task of drawing the state’s districts was then assigned to an independent expert.

A preliminary map released Monday from that expert, Carnegie Mellon postdoctoral fellow Jonathan Cervas, will be finalized soon. But even before the final districts see the light of day, they’ve thrown New York’s Democratic congressional delegation into an upheaval. Let’s explore some key dynamics: 

This is an independently drawn map, so the Democratic Party doesn’t control it

Unlike in other states like Ohio — where Republicans ran out the clock and were able to use gerrymandered congressional districts despite a legal challenge — New York’s redistricting laws allow a court to intervene on voters’ behalf. And that’s just what happened: New York’s highest court found Democrats’ map to be unconstitutional, and a lower court assigned an expert to redraw it. 

As a result, New York’s power players had no control over the districts they’ve jealously guarded for years. Not only is the map less blue than Democrats had hoped, the districts drawn by Cervas also set up several awkward situations for members of congress and other Democratic politicians. 

Several high-profile members of Congress are now pitted against each other

The drama is primary unfolding around a number of newly drawn districts that appear likely to pit incumbent Democrats against each other in this year’s congressional elections — an avoid-at-all-costs situation when parties have more leverage over mapmaking. 

Reps. Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney — who’ve each served in Congress for three decades and lead the powerful Judiciary and Oversight committees, respectively — currently represent districts that, under the new map, would substantially overlap. The knives are out: Maloney posted a picture Thursday showing her speaking at a Jewish Democratic Council of America event that featured a dejected-looking Nadler, slouched over, in her background. 

Two other high-profile Democrats — Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries and Rep. Yvette Clarke, a 15-year veteran of Congress — would also be drawn into the same Brooklyn district under the new map. 

Even Democrats’ national campaign chair is in the mix

Cervas’ map even imperils the man in charge of getting Democrats elected nationwide: Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the chair of House Democrats’ campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Within an hour of the new map’s release, Maloney announced that he would be running in New York’s 17th Congressional District — which is currently represented by the progressive freshman Rep. Mondaire Jones. Under the new map, Maloney’s home would be in the 17th District. But as Politico noted, 71% of Maloney’s current constituents would remain in New York’s 18th Congressional District, which he currently represents. Both new districts appear to be safe bets for Democrats, and would have backed Joe Biden by a healthy margin in 2020. 

Maloney’s quick announcement of his intent to run in the 17th Congressional District drew criticism from some Democrats, including Jones, who said Maloney had “not even give me a heads up” before the announcement. “I think that tells you everything you need to know about Sean Patrick Maloney,” he added.

The new map creates problems for Democrats of color 

The situation in the 17th Congressional District highlights the extent to which the new map squeezes Democrats of color: If Jones wants to avoid a fight with Maloney, one of the most powerful Democrats in the party, he could himself opt to move over a district and run in New York’s 16th Congressional District, currently represented by fellow Black freshman progressive Rep. Jamaal Bowman. 

Jeffries, who’s pitted against Clarke under the preliminary map (both members are Black), has said the new districts are “enough to make Jim Crow blush.” 

“The draft map released by a Judicial Overseer in Steuben County and unelected, out-of-town Special Master, both of whom happen to be white men, is part of a vicious national pattern targeting districts represented by members of the Congressional Black Caucus,” he said in a statement.

On top of the crunch for incumbent members of color, Democrats of color seeking to elbow their way into Congress are also facing the pressure: Would-be challengers of Carolyn Maloney who’ve spent months campaigning to unseat the veteran Democrat — including Rana Abdelhamid and Suraj Patel — now face a field crowded with established pols who are fighting each other. 

OI’ Bill de Blasio spots an opening

Hey, at least we can have a little fun: Bill de Blasio, New York City’s recently departed mayor and flash-in-the-pan presidential candidate, announced Friday that he would be running for Congress in the newly-shaped district currently assigned to Nadler: New York’s 10th. 

With Nadler eyeing New York’s 12, which covers much of Manhattan, the 10th offers an open field for a rush of would-be members of Congress, including, potentially, Trump impeachment prosecutor Daniel Goldman, as well as a band of considering-a-run New York pols such as former comptroller and mayoral candidate Scott Stringer, Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou, and state Sen. Brad Boylman, City & State New York reported.

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